9 tips for cleaner, greener eating

Natural, fresh foods are an essential part of a healthy diet. It sounds simple enough, but throw in picky eaters, busy schedules, chemical pesticide residues and the price of organic foods, and green-eating becomes much more challenging.

Experts say the benefits, however, are worth it. All-natural and organic foods have less exposure to potential toxins, less environmental impact and more antioxidants, which may protect the body from some harmful molecules.

Here are nine easy ways to make your family’s diet cleaner and greener without breaking the bank.

Apples W1. Buy organic for the Dirty Dozen

Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) identifies produce with the highest pesticide loads and dubs them the “Dirty Dozen.” Apples top the list with 99 percent of the group’s apple samples testing positive for at least one pesticide residue. Also on the “Dirty Dozen” list are peaches, grapes, strawberries, celery, cucumbers, spinach and potatoes.

“Many families simply can’t afford to buy everything organic,” says Lise Sanchez, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie. “Knowing which produce foods have the most and least pesticide residue can help families prioritize spending for organic products.”

Studies show pesticide exposure early in life can be associated with pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavior problems. The small amounts found on fruits and vegetables decrease after crops are harvested, transported, washed and cooked, the Environmental Protection Agency website says. Still, if you want to make the switch to organic, experts say the Dirty Dozen is a good place to start.

2. Choose the Clean 15

The EWG also creates “The Clean 15,” an annual list of produce least likely to hold pesticide residues. The 2015 list includes avocados, sweet corn, onions, cantaloupes, mangoes and eggplants.

Buying non-organic “Clean 15” items can save families a few dollars while lowering their exposure to pesticides, says Roni Neff, program director for food sustainability at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

3. Choose frozen fruits and vegetables

While fresh organic produce is best, don’t be afraid to buy frozen fruits and veggies, says Sharon McRae, a Columbia mom and plant-based certified health coach. Produce that is frozen just after harvesting isn’t treated as heavily with pesticides as its fresh counterpart, she says.

Frozen fruits and vegetables are often cheaper — especially if you buy them in bulk, McRae says. Check out wholesale clubs like BJs and Costco for deals.

4. Reduce meat consumption

Red meat has a huge environmental impact, Neff says. It takes 15,500 liters of water (almost 4,100 gallons) to produce 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of beef, and livestock is responsible for nearly 15 percent of global greenhouse gases, Neff says. A recent World Health Organization study also classified processed meat like hot dogs and bacon as a carcinogen (something that causes cancer) and red meat as a possible carcinogen.

In addition, many animals are given antibiotics in low doses to promote growth. This practice is contributing to the increasing number of antibiotic-resistant infections, Neff says. Reducing the amount of meat consumed helps both the environment and your family’s health, she says. If you are buying meat, look for companies that pledged to raise animals without antibiotics.

Click next below for more green eating tips.

More green eating tips

5. Use dried beansSmoothy W

Children need beans and legumes in their diets because they provide protein, McRae says. But most cans, including canned beans, include extra sodium, and the cans themselves contain an epoxy coating with bisphenol A (BPA) – a chemical that in large doses can act like estrogen.

Instead, buy brands that don’t use BPA or buy dried beans, McRae says. Save time by cooking the dried beans in an electric pressure cooker, she says.

6. Consider minimally processed foods

Not all processed foods are alike, Sanchez says. While many heavily processed foods offer convenience, they usually lack nutrition and fiber, she says. Minimally processed foods, such as bagged spinach, pre-cut fruit, packaged vegetables and roasted nuts, are simple, nourishing foods pre-prepped for convenience.

“This can be a good thing,” she says.

7. Simplify snacks

Limit ready-to-eat foods, such as low-fiber chips and crackers, sugary cereals and overly processed deli meat, Sanchez says.

If you buy processed snacks, choose ones that are baked or high in whole grains, she says. And have healthy snacks on hand when your kids are their hungriest, McRae says. She recommends hummus with celery and carrots or nut butter sandwiches, while Lisa Consiglio Ryan, an Annapolis mom and certified health and nutrition coach, recommends fresh-cut apples with almond butter.

8. Make smoothies

Smoothies are an easy, affordable way to incorporate greens like kale and spinach — nutritional powerhouses — into the family’s diet, Ryan says. Frozen or fresh organic strawberries and blueberries can hide the “green,” making veggie-packed smoothies more tempting for color-sensitive kids to try. Nut butters also help mask the green and provide protein.

At night, Ryan makes “smoothie jars,” Mason jars filled with ingredients for the next morning’s smoothies. That way, ingredients are blender-ready before the morning rush. To save even more time, Ryan will blend ingredients, freeze them and then put the pre-made smoothie in the refrigerator the night before to thaw.

“It’s fast, it’s easy, and they get their fruits and veggies,” she says.

9. Sign up for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Community Supported Agriculture allows residents to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Users says benefits include fresher food with more nutritional value and, if the farm is certified organic, fewer pesticides.

Veronica Galindo de Otazo, an Ellicott City mom, says signing up for a CSA with Breezy Willow Farm in Howard County transformed the way her family ate.

“It pushed my boundaries,” she says. “Instead of serving baby carrots, broccoli and apple slices, I was serving Brussel sprouts, butternut squash and eggplant, and they were eating it ... For the kids, seeing the bright fruit and veggies (and) picking their own really involved them and made them more willing to try new things.”

By Allison Eatough

Click next below for Parent tested tips for healthier eating

Parent tested tips for eating healthier

Eating GreenHere’s how some local parents make mealtime more natural.

“I put out sliced fruits and veggies while cooking dinner. Dinner usually contains carbs, and this way, they fill up on fresh before processed.” – Aline Pawlak, mom of two from Bethesda

“I say (my daughter) can dip her veggies in the dip of her choice (fat-free ranch, hummus or mustard), and that’s the way we get her to eat anything she doesn’t want to try. This kid loves mustard. I loathe it, but she will literally eat anything if it is dipped in mustard.” – Christen McCoy, mom of two from Ellicott City

“The thing we’ve done that seemed to make the biggest impact was to have a vegetable garden in our backyard. The kids get really excited to eat things they helped grow, often times eating it raw right off the plant. They’ll eat spinach, kale, snap peas, tomatoes, cucumbers — all raw and without being drowned in ranch dressing.” – Matt Buckleman, father of two from Bel Air

“Use things like SmartPop, homemade granola bars, and veggies and hummus as snacks, and make your own lunches. ... Talk to them about food ingredients, show them the labels and read the list to them. How many of the ingredients do they recognize? Can we pick a different brand or product that has higher-quality ingredients?” – Shelby John, mom of three from Bel Air

“We have two rules: Lunch always consists of fruit, vegetable, protein and carb. Dinner: You must try everything. If you don’t try it, you get it for lunch tomorrow. If you don’t finish your dinner, you don’t get dessert. ... We always have fruit or a few snacks to choose for dessert.” – Trista Plunkett, mom of two from Elkridge

“It’s best to start early. My youngest eats and loves almost everything — mushrooms, anchovies, olives, onions and even spicy food like Thai food. But don’t give up on your older children. It’s just a matter of re-educating them. Cook with them. It’s messy, it’s slow, but it’s so worth it.” – Veronica Galindo de Otazo, mom of three from Ellicott City

Resources for healthier families

Lise Sanchez, registered dietitian and nutritionist at UM Baltimore Washington Medical Center, recommends the following websites for ongoing nutrition information:

  • Kids Eat Right - kidseatright.org
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics - eatright.org
  • Maryland Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics - eatwellmd.org
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture ChooseMyPlate Program - choosemyplate.gov